Updated October 2023
I originally wrote this post in 2020, during the height of Covid. There was much discussion happening on mom forums about how to celebrate while avoiding Covid, but every single suggestion about trick or treating alternatives still involved lots of candy and sweets, and there was no consideration that sugar impacts your immune system.
So I wrote this guide for a less toxic Halloween!
1. THE HAZARDS OF SUGAR AND CANDY 🍭
And it contributes to illness. “What we know is that diabetes appears to be common in people confirmed to have COVID-19. “This suggests that having higher levels of sugars in your blood could make it easier to contract COVID-19.”
Not all sugar is created equal though, so natural forms of sugar, such as in fruit, are digested with the fiber of the fruit, and have less of a spike effect on blood sugar.
Candy on the other hand, is full of highly processed sugars, artificial flavors, preservatives, dyes (hyperlink is to a Facebook post I made; see the comments too as well as this one and this one), etc. Chocolate pretty much always has high levels of lead. I also avoid citric acid (many other “healthy” bloggers recommend treats that contain it), brown rice syrup which contains arsenic (many other “healthy” bloggers recommend treats that contain it, such as Yum Earth).
The Food Babe wrote this about why candy is harmful:
“ARTIFICIAL COLORS: Dyes derived from petroleum, linked to several health issues, including allergies and hyperactivity in children, which require a warning label in Europe. Recent research shows they may also disrupt the immune system.
ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS: Chemical mixtures produced by fractional distillation and chemical manipulation of various chemicals like crude oil or coal tar.
GMO INGREDIENTS: Crops like corn and soy that are genetically modified in a lab, many of which are designed to be resistant to dangerous pesticides like Roundup weedkiller.
TBHQ: Controversial preservative that may harm the immune system and increase the risk of food allergies.
BHT: Risky preservative linked to cancer. Unnecessary and not permitted in most food in Europe or Australia.
CORN SYRUP: A heavily processed form of sugar typically made from the starch of GMO corn. This refined sugar has zero nutritional value.
Please note: [Healthier candy] is STILL CANDY. It is a treat, it is not doing anything positive for your body, and many still contain elusive natural flavors.”
2. HEALTHIER ALTERNATIVES TO CANDY
An alternative to candy is the Teal Pumpkin Project®: Raising awareness of food allergies through the addition of non-food trinkets and toys to your treats, making Halloween safer and more inclusive for all trick or treaters.
I am holding a trunk or treat event inspired by the Teal Pumpkin Project for my community that isn’t including any candy or anything edible, so it is completely safe for those with allergies or who want to avoid sugar. I have never seen anything like it but I encourage others to do the same!
For those who argue that non candy items are wasteful, the entire holiday is wasteful including candy wrappers, which cannot be recycled*, and often get littered outside. *If you do eat candy, the foil wrapped ones might be able to be recycled if you save the foil until you have enough to make a ball the size of a tennis ball. And here is Terracycle, a way to recycle things like candy wrappers that normally can’t go in curbside recycling.
FAACT has created resources for families with allergies, including blog posts, Pinterest boards, podcast episodes, and activities to help educate your community.
Here are some healthy options for handing out to trick or treaters:
-Whole bananas, apples, or clementines (which look like pumpkins)
-Skout fruit bars.
-Mini Kind or Lara bars (Amazon associates link to the ones I buy
-Artisana almond butter individual packets.
-Nuts and seeds, if you can find individual packets.
-Rhythm Superfoods dried carrots or beets.
-Square Organic protein bars. Some people love these. They are expensive and the ones I’ve seen have some ingredients I’m not crazy about, but at least they are organic.
-Coconut Secret grain free granola bars. Note these have a significant amount of sugar, but from natural coconut. These may be discontinued.
-Paleovalley pasture-raised turkey jerky sticks.
Here are best candy items to pass out:
-Wholesome Organic lollipops. These don’t have artificial dyes, or the brown rice syrup (which contains arsenic) that other brands such as Yum Earth Pops do. Amazon affiliate link: https://amzn.to/3nXHxpL
-Hershey’s Organic mini chocolate bars. As I mentioned, chocolate has lead, but if you’re looking for this kind of classic treat, at least it’s organic and has minimal ingredients (but contains dairy). Amazon Associates link: https://amzn.to/3eWywMr
-Ocho Candy. As I mentioned, chocolate has lead, but if you’re looking for this kind of classic treat, at least it’s organic and has minimal ingredients; check for allergens. Amazon Associates link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BG6MBPLV/ref=cm_sw_r_as_gl_api_gl_i_T5JNMPW9BHV52FQCY860?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&linkCode=ml2&tag=cleangreentox-20
– Smashmallow Halloween Pack (may be discontinued)
You can even get unique:
For more snacks and treats, I have a much more thorough blog about options here.
And here is another blog similar to this one (written after mine).
Here is a sugar binge recovery guide.
3. IDEAS FOR PARTY FOODS
You can bake a healthier (no processed sugars) pumpkin bread, cookies, apple pie, etc. Someday I’ll post some recipes, but here are some photos found on the internet. For all these photos of food, I am unsure of their original source except for those with a watermark.
4. COSTUMES 🧙♀️
I love dressing up for Halloween so we definitely do that and sometimes get professional photos taken (there’s another idea for you).
It’s definitely possible to be creative and make your own costumes with organic clothes/ materials, but to be honest, I personally don’t have the time or energy for that. I do try to buy normal clothing pieces instead of ready-made costumes, so that they can be worn again. For example, my daughter was Goldilocks so I just bought her a cute cotton yellow dress with pockets and ruffles, instead of a commercially made polyester one that was obviously a costume. And the shoes I got her have been worn regularly for the past year.
Sometimes I do buy regular already made costumes, as long as they don’t contain PVC or flame retardants, I’m OK with it because they are worn for such a short time. I wash them before wearing, and if possible wear a layer of clothing underneath. I don’t use face paint and avoid glitter.
Here is a fun game (from the Better Life blog) to create costumes on the fly with things around your house, as a game: First, write down all of your favorite costume ideas and put them into a bowl. Then, take turns picking one idea at a time. For each costume, set a timer for 15 minutes. All players must find things around the house to create their best costume before time runs out. When everyone has created their costume, take a vote on whose costume is the best.
Lead Safe Mama has some great tips for safe and DIY costumes too.
For white face paint you can also try using a sunscreen with zinc oxide, such as Badger brand. Be aware that zinc oxide sunscreens do have a low level of lead, but likely much lower than other face paints. Wash hands after application, and wash face when you’re done celebrating.
Another idea I heard of but haven’t tried, it’s to find a very natural food dye such as India tree and paint it on the lips or cheeks with a lip brush. Also check out my makeup blog post.
What’s wrong with conventional costumes:
Beware of this kind of label: On jewelry or decorative items, a “not intended/ recommended for children under 14 years of age” label often means it has cadmium or lead (because lead has to stay under 90 PPM for items marketed to children, otherwise it is not regulated at all). So these kinds of labels can mean either they don’t want to do testing to meet safety regulations, or they know that it contains heavy metals higher than the regulations. Similarly, labels that say “for decorative use only; not a toy” are often for the same reasons.
5. PUMPKINS 🎃
Pumpkins are fun to carve and/ or decorate, but can also be wasteful. Conventionally grown pumpkins can also be grown with pesticides/herbicides/fungicides, and if you look closely at the labels on pumpkins for sale, many say “not for consumption” which is alarming.
What I personally do usually is buy organic pie pumpkins and decorate them but not carve. Then after Halloween I cook and eat them ! It’s easiest if you stick on removable decorations, but paint could work if you cut the skin off before cooking. Carving could also still work if you cook it soon after.
Try a Thai- inspired coconut pumpkin curry; it can even be served using a pumpkin as a bowl. Don’t forget to roast the seeds; I don’t even wash the stringy bits off. It sounds weird but if you slow roast, say around 250 degrees, with coconut oil and a bit of salt, it will crisp up kind of like a peanut brittle and the strings will add sweetness.
If you don’t get an edible pumpkin, other options are composting, or this, if your area permits: How to Recycle Halloween Pumpkins for Wildlife.
6. DECORATIONS 🧟♂️
Remember that decorative items are not regulated for heavy metals and often contain them, as well as toxic materials like PVC.
The simplest, very least toxic and least wasteful decor is using natural ideas like pumpkins and squashes (ideally organic), and then eating them ! See if you can find an organic pumpkin patch, or even consider growing your own! That way you can choose different varieties if you like, such as the beautiful princess (Japanese Heirloom) type in the top right of the top picture in this post.
Other good materials for decorations are wood, hard unpainted plastic, or fabric. To avoid lead, avoid ceramic and painted items.
7. OPTIONS FOR CELEBRATING IN THE AGE OF COVID
The following section was written in 2020. While things have largely relaxed in regards to Covid, some parts of this are still useful (avoiding spreading germs is always a good thing), especially if you’re immune-compromised, sick, or otherwise can’t do traditional trick or treating.
I am in quite a few mom groups, and a big discussion topic lately is Halloween plans. The amount of people saying that they’re going to have a party instead of trick-or-treating because they are worried about germs, is astounding. We have a saying in the non-toxic world about not replacing one toxin for another. Along that logic, realize that this could be exchanging one high-risk activity for another. Contained spaces with groups of people (doesn’t matter how well you know them) are certainly at the top of the high risk list. Virtual gatherings to show off costumes are another idea. If you do choose to have a party, a HEPA air purifier might help; see my air purifier post.
If you do want to do trick-or-treating, it’s possible to do so with less-risk, according to the CDC: Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where goodie bags (or I would think spreading out treats on a table; not in a bowl) that can be quickly grabbed while continuing to physical distance (such as having the table at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard, and the givers could be at the top of the driveway). If you are preparing goodie bags or spreading out treats, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 second before and after preparing the bags. This scenario assumes cooperation from all involved, but if you could get neighborhoods or towns on board, it could work.
Many of the people on the mom-group forums were also saying they plan to use hand sanitizer on their kids after every house while trick or treating. Those aren’t meant to be used that frequently, and many sanitizer products are full of chemicals, additives, and toxic fragrances, so using those so many times is concerning. I do have some better ones recommended in my disinfecting blog, but they still contain alcohol which at the very least can be drying to the skin (and I’ve seen it argued that this may make you more susceptible to germs).
If you are concerned about touching the candy, other creative ideas I had were to incorporate tongs, grabbers, or gloves as part of costumes. Definitely wash hands as soon as you can.
Another idea is to use Covid as excuse to play “Switch Witch” and exchange the candy collected from trick or treating, with your own goodies (see sections above for some suggestions).
If you do want to eat the candy from trick or treating, you could put it under quarantine for a few days, since the virus degrades quickly from surfaces.
If you choose not to provide treats for trick or treaters, please be polite about it. I saw one woman declaring she was going to make a sign at the end of her driveway expressing that she didn’t want anyone coming anywhere near her house. Remember that there are children around, so if you choose to make such a sign, please be as kind as possible with your written (or potentially spoken) words. Let’s keep Halloween sane and peaceful.
The CDC also ranked Halloween activities by level of risk, if you’re considering haunted houses, hay rides or other things. Outdoor activities are generally considered very low risk.
If you decide to stay home, there are many creative alternatives to Trick or Treating. My favorite idea is doing a scavenger or egg hunt. The plastic Easter eggs aren’t the most eco-friendly thing in the world, but not the worst either. They can at least be re-used. I personally would fill with non-candy items. If you want to maintain a semblance of trick or treating, an idea is to let your kids come to all the different doors of your own house and you give them treats/ trinkets. You could also have games, put on a play, read books, and maybe even discuss the cultural origins of Halloween and Day of the Dead traditions.
Remember that young kids especially will likely be excited about any kind of celebrating, so be positive! One benefit of staying inside is that you can wear costumes that your local climate may not usually allow because it’s prohibitively cold or hot outside.
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